The Traitor's Heir

Free The Traitor's Heir by Anna Thayer

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Authors: Anna Thayer
and they won’t arrest someone for family connections. Aeryn’s record is spotless.”
    â€œYes.” Eamon blinked distractedly. “Ladomer, I need some rest,” he said, his strength seeping from his limbs like water from a cracked jug. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
    Ladomer nodded encouragingly. “Of course. Sleep well. Oh,” he added, “congratulations, Ensign Goodman!”
    â€œThank you.”
    Eamon watched as Ladomer left, then took himself inside his ramshackle room to his bed. He was exhausted and collapsed gratefully onto it.
    Despite the weariness in all his veins, he could not sleep. When he did at last trespass into the realm of dream it was to the thick of a battle of long ago, where a shining king took arms against an eagle with a burning crown.

C HAPTER IV
    M orning came, the sun stumbling weary and cold to the horizon. The smell and sound of the fishmonger woke him. With a groan he dug his head deep under the blankets, pulling them tight about his ears. The fibres tickled his nose; he sneezed and moaned as he tried to clear his head. Dreams and visions faded from his mind; others returned to him in their place: Aeryn, the paper, the inn…
    Sleep drained from his veins. He passed his hands through his hair and glanced about his small room. His uniform lay draped over a chair, casting long shadows.
    â€œFresh fish! Fresh fish!” The fishmonger’s cry rent the morning air. Squinting, Eamon made a move to cover his sore eyes, pausing as his hands passed before his face. He stopped. He turned them over, comparing and examining them as well as he could in the sullen light. The mark on his palm seemed to have lessened; indeed, he spent so long searching for it that he wondered if he had not imagined the whole grisly affair.
    Perhaps he had not sworn at all.
    Tricked, he smiled with relief. But when he looked up, he saw the pin on his uniform. His heart sank.
    â€œFresh fish!”
    He wondered idly whether the fishmonger’s assertion was true.
    He dressed slowly, unsteady hands slipping on the fastenings of shirt and jacket, then strapped his sword to his side. As he left, locking the rickety door behind him, he fondly reached out and patted the threshold. Pulling his jacket more closely about his neck to dull the morning chill, he began to make his way to the college.
    A throng of new ensigns were standing on the college steps by the time he arrived. Built from great slabs of stone, the college was bedecked with columns and graceless statues gesturing ever upwards to where the Master’s emblem, encased in gold, lay on the uppermost wall. The glint of light over the courtyard was like gold leaf, glinting austerely over the open iron gates.
    He passed without hindrance, greeting a few of his colleagues on the way. Here he was, Ensign Eamon Goodman, ready to hear what service he was to give the Master. Perhaps he would be sent out to one of the more distant garrisons, or up the River, or maybe even to Dunthruik itself…
    And in the city? The thought rolled before him like an awesome dawn. In the city he might be assigned to the ports, the streets, or one of the four quarters. He might even take his turn at the palace gates and, were he bold and fortunate, he might prove himself extraordinary and be sent on to become a Hand…
    He shivered. Those who became Hands largely began by serving in the Gauntlet, but by exceptionally proving their Master’s glory were taken from those ranks and given black to wear. Others might be drawn from the gentry, but rarely and only after outstanding service. Whatever their provenance, the Hands performed the Master’s highest bidding and were deep in his confidences.
    Sometimes Eamon had dared to picture himself in black, and for the briefest moment he did so again. But if what Aeryn had said was true… if Dunthruik was founded in blood, then Eamon was sure that the Hands had shed it.
    He blinked

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